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Creative Alternatives to The Elf on the Shelf

From gnomes who stay put, to elves who want to spread kindness

Author Kari Hanson

Published on: November 20, 2023

four gnomes sitting on a mantel are an elf on the shelf alternative

It’s that time of year again. The holidays are here, and for many families that means an elf who works for Santa will soon arrive, get into mischief and report back to his boss. That’s right, I’m talking about Elf on the Shelf. For many families, this is a tradition that is joyful, silly and loved. But for others, it seems like a lot of work, and an elf in your house watching your every move feels more than a little creepy.

If you fall into the “Elf on the Shelf is creepy” camp, never fear! There are plenty of other things you can do to keep the holiday magic alive. Some of these options require a bit of work, while others are nice and simple.

If you are an Elf on the Shelf family, more power to you! Why not try adding one of these other options to your tradition this year? After all, I bet that elf would love a magical friend.

Check out these fun options below. Find one you like, and start a new holiday tradition!

No work required

Santa’s Lazy Gnome

"Santa’s Lazy Gnome"

Santa sends out gnomes to tell him how kids are behaving as Christmas approaches. But rather than run around like an elf, the gnome just stays in one place. Plop him down on a shelf and you’re good to go for the month. The gnome comes with a cute book that you can read as often as you like. The gnome is supposed to report back to Santa about children’s behavior, and it does have the creepy “someone is always watching you” vibe. But, at least it stays in one place!

Reindeer In Here

"Reindeer In Here book and stuffy"

This sweet little stuffed reindeer comes with a book and tells the story of Santa sending reindeer to visit children so he can get to know them (nothing about naughty or nice!). Each child gets a reindeer to carry around and play with until Christmas Eve when they go back to the North Pole with Santa. Kids look forward to the return of their reindeer every year!

The North Pole Gnome: Santa’s New Helper

"North Pole Gnome in a box with the book"

This one also has a focus on naughty or nice, but you can put as little or as much emphasis on that as you want. Your kids can carry the gnome around all day, and at night the gnome goes to sleep in their Christmas stocking. They report back to Santa at night about the child’s behavior but feel free to leave that part out. You’ll get a gnome and a book, and there is an app you can download to your phone. Again, there is a naughty or nice meter, but there are also North Pole-themed games and adventures to explore.

The Christmas Pickle

"Christmas pickle ornament"

This is a tradition that is often associated with Germany, but lots of families around the world take part. The premise is simple: whoever finds the pickle ornament on the Christmas tree wins! The prize can be whatever you want, often the winner gets to open the first gift on Christmas morning. If you want to make it a little more interactive throughout the month, try having kids look for it multiple times each week until Christmas. The winner could get to choose a Christmas movie for the family to watch or be the first one to get their hot chocolate that evening. Customize this one any way you like.

Focus on kindness rather than naughty or nice

North Pole Ninjas: MISSION: Christmas!

"North Pole Ninjas book cover"

Snuggle up on the couch as a family and read this fun holiday book about Santa’s team of special elves who preform top-secret missions focused on helping, giving, caring and listening. Readers are encouraged to take up this secret mission as well. But don’t worry, no need to rack your brain coming up with creative missions of kindness, because the book comes with 50 secret tasks for new recruits. Holiday magic at its best!

The Kindness Elves

"Kindness elves"

These magical friends want nothing more than to sprinkle kindness and joy everywhere they go. Each morning they will leave a little note to your kids encouraging them to do an act of kindness, from baking cookies for a friend, to giving their parent a hug, to writing a kind note to a teacher. At the end of the day, kids get a postcard from the elves congratulating them on their act of kindness. The family bundle includes the elves and accessories, the beautifully illustrated storybook and the 12 Days of Christmas Kindness ePack. Spread a little more kindness this season, the world sure could use it.

The Gnome in Your Home

"Gnome in your Home"

This cute little stuffed gnome, named Heartley, comes with a book that tells the story of a group of gnomes who learn that they have a special gift of kindness to share. They find that even though they are small, their kindness can make a big difference. Kids are encouraged to do acts of kindness throughout the day (30 cards with ideas are included) and tell their gnome about their good deeds at night.

Requires some work, but without the elf judgment

The Shepherd on the Search

"Shepherd on the Search"

If your family celebrates the Christian origins of the holiday, you’ll want to check this one out. The set comes with a book that tells the story of a young shepherd who spends the weeks before Christmas looking for Jesus. It also comes with a cute plush shepherd toy. You can hide the shepherd each night and when he is found by your kids you can read about the next phase of his search. You’ll have to come up with creative places to hide the shepherd, but no costumes or mischievous tricks are required!

The Christmas Mouse

"The Christmas Mouse"

Of all the alternatives listed, this one requires the most work from parents. But, if you enjoy this type of creativity, this might be the alternative you’ve been looking for. The Christmas Mouse comes to your home in December and leaves kids an assignment each day. The mouse likes to sleep during the day and play at night, so each morning kids have to search the house to find the mouse in his new hiding place. When they find the mouse, they will be given the day’s assignment and are asked to tuck the mouse back into its bed. Check out the website for more adorable pictures, and you’ll also find 25 ideas for mouse assignments. Bonus — this option has nothing to do with Santa, which is helpful if that is not a tradition your household observes.

More holiday activities

Activity Advent Calendars

10 Christmas Cookies to Make This Holiday Season

7 Adorable Christmas Treats to Make With Kids

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